By Preksha Krishna Kumar (International Accountability Project)
In January 2015, the Early Warning System published a project alert about a World Bank funded urban development project in Chennai, India that would displace hundreds of families from their homes and livelihoods. It was difficult to tell if communities knew the full scope of the project and whether they would have the opportunity to influence the design and implementation of project plans. In an effort to verify the information released by the Bank, the EWS reached out to local partners in Chennai, specifically Vanessa Peter, a policy researcher at the Information Resource Center for Deprived Urban Communities.
Vanessa, together with Priti Narayan, an independent researcher, met with local residents and published a Citizens Response documenting the many problems with how this project was being implemented. With the support of the Early Warning System team, they sent this response to all 25 Executive Directors of the World Bank prior to a key decision date. Despite these efforts, on March 31st, 2015, the World Bank Executive Directors approved 400 million USD of funding for the project. Even though funding went through, the Citizen’s Response to the Board of Directors has resulted in increased scrutiny around this particular case. The United States Executive Director abstained from voting and in a public statement, expressed that the United States is “concerned about the environmental and social impacts” of the project.
In the months following the decision, communities have successfully interrupted business as usual to make sure their concerns are being taken seriously. The have secured a host of promises from local authorities to improve access to information and the conditions at resettlement sites. For the first time, public hearings were held to discuss the project and resettlement documents were finally made available in the local language. Communities have also succeeded in persuading local authorities to introduce improvements that would benefit a much larger population. After visiting the two proposed resettlement sites in April, 2015, the Commissioner of the Corporation of Chennai committed to improve the services and infrastructure available to residents. Presently, the two sites together have only one hospital, a single high school, and limited or poorly maintained public facilities. If the promised changes go through 98,000 people stand to benefit from improvements to basic infrastructure and public health facilities.
By supporting community campaigns and facilitating dialogues with decision makers, the case above demonstrates that timely interventions and access to information are valuable for communities to ensure that projects are designed in a manner that truly reflects their development priorities. We thank Vanessa and her incredible team in Chennai for their leadership in coordinating outreach and advocacy for this project. The Early Warning System continues to support local efforts to design a development and resettlement plan that respects the priorities of those directly impacted.